Five of the Most Common Autoimmune Diseases, Explained
When foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses infect you, your immune system kicks into gear to fight these pathogens. Unfortunately, however, not everyone's immune system sticks to just fighting the bad guys. For those with autoimmune disorders, their immune system mistakenly starts attacking its own parts as foreign invaders. That's when you might start experiencing symptoms that range from joint pain and nausea to body aches and digestive discomfort.
Here, what you need to know about the signs and symptoms of some of the most common autoimmune diseases so you can keep an eye out for these uncomfortable attacks. (Related: Why Autoimmune Diseases Are on the Rise)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that typically causes inflammation of the joints and the encompassing tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also affect other organs. The symptoms to look out for are joint pain, fatigue, increased muscle aches, weakness, loss of appetite, and prolonged morning stiffness. Further symptoms include skin inflammation or redness, low-grade fever, pleurisy (lung inflammation), anemia, hand and feet deformities, numbness or tingling, paleness, and eye burning, itching, and discharge.
The disease can appear at any age, although research shows that women are more prone to the disease than men. In fact, cases of RA are 2-3 times more likely in women, according to the CDC. Other factors such as infection, genes, and hormones can bring on RA. Smokers are at higher risk of developing the disease. (Related: Lady Gaga Opens Up About Suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissues in the central nervous system. This causes gradual damage in the central nervous system (CNS) that interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Common symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, limb numbness or weakness on one side of the body, optic neuritis (loss of vision), double or blurry vision, unsteady balance or lack of coordination, tremors, tingling or pain in parts of the body, and bowel or bladder problems. The disease is more prevalent among 20- to 40-year-olds, although it can occur at any age. Women are more likely to be affected by MS than men. (Related: 5 Health Issues That Hit Women Differently Than Men)
This chronic condition is distinguished by widespread body pain in your muscles and joints, according to the CDC. Commonly, defined tender points in the joints, muscles, and tendons that cause shooting and radiating pain has been linked with fibromyalgia. Other symptoms include fatigue, memory difficulties, palpitations, disturbed sleep, migraines, numbness, and body aches. Fibromyalgia might also cause irritable bowel symptoms, so it's quite possible for patients to experience both joint pain and nausea.
In the United States, around 2 percent of the population or 40 million people are affected by this condition, according to the CDC. Women are twice as likely to develop this condition than men; it is most common among 20- to 50-year-olds. Fibromyalgia symptoms are often triggered by physical or emotional trauma, but in many cases, there is no identifiable cause of the disorder. (Here's how one writer's ongoing joint pain and nausea was finally diagnosed as fibromyalgia.)
Celiac disease is an inherited digestive condition in which the consumption of the protein gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. This protein is found in all forms of wheat and related grains rye, barley, and triticale, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). The disease can occur at any age. Among adults, the condition is sometimes manifested after surgery, viral infection, severe emotional stress, pregnancy, or childbirth. Children with the condition often display growth failure, vomiting, bloated abdomen, and behavioral changes.
Symptoms vary and can include abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, unexplained anemia, weakness, or lack of energy. On top of that, patients with celiac disease might also experience bone or joint pain and nausea. The disorder is most common in Caucasians and those of European ancestry. Women are affected more commonly than men. (In case you need ‘em, discover the best gluten-free snacks under $5.)
This inflammatory bowel disease largely affects the large intestine and rectum and is characterized by abdominal pain and diarrhea, according to the NLM. Other symptoms include vomiting, weight loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, joint pain, and nausea. Any age group can be affected but it is more prevalent amongst the ages 15 to 30 and 50 to 70. People with a family history of ulcerative colitis and those of European (Ashkenazi) Jewish ancestry are more at risk of contracting the disease. The disorder affects about 750,000 people in North Americans, according to the NLM. (Up Next: The GI Symptoms You Should Never Ignore)